Get the skinny on fats with this cookbook

“The Fat Kitchen: How to Render, Cure & Cook with Lard, Tallow & Poultry Fat” by Andrea Chesman (Storey, $24.95)

Southerners of a certain age have always known that lard is the key to the flakiest biscuits and the crispiest cornbread. But for years, the health police warned us that animal fats were bad for our hearts and convinced us to switch to vegetable oils instead. Now we’re told that trans fats and refined sugars are actually the bad guys, and a little extra animal fat in our diets may actually be a good thing.

Whatever the latest research says, there’s one fact that never changes: foods cooked with animal fats taste good. Really, really good. But most of us don’t know much about using them. That’s why Andrea Chesman wrote “The Fat Kitchen: How to Render, Cure & Cook with Lard, Tallow & Poultry Fat.” The Vermont cooking instructor grew up on the schmaltz-flavored cooking of her Polish-born Jewish grandmother and, as the author of many books rooted in traditional cooking techniques, has a deep appreciation for the unmatched flavor and texture animal fats bring to a world of foods. Hearty comfort fare, both all-American and international, dominate her easy-to-follow recipes. She caramelizes apples in duck fat to fold into winter squash or top a French tart, roasts brussels sprouts with bacon, and fries Chinese scallion pancakes in lard.

Not all animal fats are created equal, though. Chesman only advocates using fat from pasture-raised animals, and goes into significant detail in explaining the differences and how to use each: beef, lamb, goat, pork, poultry – even bear (!) fat. Illustrated tutorials guide you through acquiring, rendering, curing and storing them. Chesman is an engaging writer who’s done her homework and makes a convincing case to never let those tasty leftover drippings go to waste again.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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